Resilience In The Workplace


In the enormous area of understanding people’s motivations, one are of interest to me has been how people bounce back. What are the essential ingredients? How can we help people who are knocked down to get up again.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward address this issue in “Firing Back” which focuses on what factors contribute to great business leaders’ ability to rebound after career disasters.  Disappointed by defeat in one’s role as a leader, the defeat then feeds disappointment and lack of confidence by the leader. Complicating matters are the barriers from society, corporate cultures, psychological stresses and the actual departure causes.

The key to bouncing back is the decision on how to face the issue: fight or flight: whether to fight against the allegations or to retreat and weather the storm. To a great extent, the answer depends on the damage incurred or potential damage to one’s reputation. While the allegations and fallout from a downfall are damaging, fighting them can exacerbate the damage by extending and making more public the accusations in order to disprove them may make things worse and actually block any career comeback.

Once a leader makes this decision, bouncing back requires internal and external psychological support.  Focusing on your competencies and capabilities and re-connecting with your self-esteem is critical. Then, recruit others in the battle, especially members of your social network who reinforce your positive assets and help reduce collateral damage. Rebuild your stature by identifying your “Heroic” mission that defined your personal leadership career in the first place. Triumph, the authors tell us, comes from restoring our sense of self and choosing as our next leadership opportunity one in which we can prove our mettle. Accepting a safe job offer won’t do; we need a position which challenges us to demonstrate all we truly can do.

Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist shares his story of imprisonment in Auschwitz concentration camp in “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He noted that to survive, people had to look past the present adversity and focus on how in the future they would be able to, once again, demonstrate their sense of self-competence, esteem and respect. Those who didn’t look past the adversity were much more likely to succumb to death.

Think about the comebacks of leaders you know. How does it play out? The authors share the stories of many leaders who’ve faced such adversity – Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, George Foreman to mention a few. Think about what helped them come back? More important, have you ever had a major setback and had to bounce-back?  What helped you bounce back? Share your ideas with us. Appreciating how people have been resilient may help you and your loved ones in the future!

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